Dress makes a man. The National Museum in Prague knows that. And instead of pondering over, whether fashion is art or not, it has jumped right into stuffing the entire building with jackets and dresses from bygone times.
Occupying the National Museum for almost a year (the exhibit opened in June 2016), Retro exhibition is filled with both the glamour of the 20s, and fashion casualties of the 80s and 90s. Rack after rack, glistering night gowns and feather boas are mixed with violet coats and beaded dresses.
While in the roaring 20s, women were chic for sporting flapper dresses, bobbed haircuts and listening to jazz, by the 1960s, a true lady on the catwalk either followed Jackie Kennedy’s sleek look or Brigitte Bardot’s tackiness. After all fashion is and always has been like a Russian roulette.
Crocodile skin, suede or sackcloth, it all hangs in the history of the Czech’s wardrobe. Some of the items are timeless, like men’s suits from Dior, which decorate showcases of both the Retro exhibition and current boutiques on Pařížská. Meanwhile other pieces are better left in the heat of their period, forever.
Like the 80s normalization period, when Czechoslovakian youth had to make do with wearing pink track-suits and listening to the terrible Czech pop singer Michael David. The section on 80s fashion includes polyester violet coats and neon sweatbands under a glittering disco ball, and an 80s soundtrack in the background.
Then just looking at the longline corsets, that women wore with the aim to obtain that 19th century iconic “wasp waist” when Historicism was the thing, invokes dizziness. However, fashion is just one part of Retro. Grundig magnetophones, blue cans of Hašlerky mint treats, and the metal building kits by Merkur on display help to underline all aspects of life in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, from 1948 to 1989.
So, for older generation Czech visitors, Retro can turn into a walk down memory lane.
“I used to have this Favorit bicycle! Grandad had to pay double to get me one that wasn’t crashed. And those Prestige sneakers were almost impossible to get,” my 53-year-old father exclaimed to me at the exhibit, in bittersweet recollection of how heavily the Iron Curtain had been draped over his head.
Since history repeats itself, we can keep asking, “When will polka-dots be trendy again?” The exhibition Retro doesn’t hold the answer. It just reminds visitors that the Czech coats it parades in are not final and hardly ever will be. The exhibition will continue to tell the story of Czech fashion and Czech consumerism until May 31, 2017.
Photo courtesy of the National Museum